You’ve been rehearsing for weeks. The hype has reached a fever pitch. The lights are on, and you receive your cue. Suppressing the butterflies in your stomach, you boldly step up and begin your epic presentation… to five of your co-workers and a face on a computer screen.
Most presentations aren’t TED talks; they take place in somewhat banal conference rooms, offices, or worse. But that doesn’t lessen the significance of the content, or the pressure on the presenter.
This article isn’t about how to deliver a masterful speech that will dazzle your audience of hundreds. It’s about how to deliver a presentation in its most common form, in a casual meeting that will dazzle Alice the branch manager.
1. Cut Out the Grandeur
Tips like “open with a joke,” “exaggerate body language,” and “actively walk around,” may apply to large-scale presentations, but the same advice becomes detrimental in a casual environment. The first modification for small presentations is to keep it casual.
Use conversational language. You’re not speaking to a diverse and faceless audience, you’re talking to a handful of people, most likely people you’ve met before, so don’t pretend. You can even use first names and address the people in the room directly, if that’s appropriate.
Part of staying casual is staying flexible. Informal presentations are vulnerable to surprises, as it’s easy to interrupt with a few people in the room. Keep everything loose to handle unexpected discussions or other diversions.
2. Directly Engage with Your Audience
“Sit-down” presentations are more personal than big-venue speeches. This is their greatest advantage, so be sure to use it.
Small presentations allow you to interact directly with your audience, both in how you address them, and even at times in involving them in the presentation.
For starters, strategically use eye contact. For example, if you want advertising to know about your new research, make constant eye contact with the representative. If your topic is general and applicable to everyone, divvy up your eye contact equally.
If you’re comfortable enough, you can even engage the audience directly. You can ask a co-worker to confirm data they supplied, ask lead-in questions to generate interest (“How well do you think Product B did the week the ads ran?”), or simply wrench back someone whose attention has started to wander. Just remember the famous lawyer’s adage: don’t ask questions you don’t already know the answer to.
3. Use a Reliable Presentation Structure
Presentation structure is based on reason, not where it’s presented. Sure, there are a few differences, such as how you open and transition, but the overall progression of the presentation shouldn’t change.
As a refresher on presentation skills, SlideHeroes gives the following advice as part of their business presentation training:
- Context – Explain the existing circumstances, the environment around your presentation topic.
- Catalyst – What happened to disrupt the status quo and cause a conflict?
- Problem – Clearly state the problem or main argument.
- Solution – Clearly state the solution, how to solve the problem.
- Call-to-action – State outright the action you’d like your audience to take in response.
For better results, fact-based evidence, shown through visual aids like graphs, improves credibility and increases your persuasive power. Moreover, graphs help the audience absorb and comprehend your message clearly. And when push comes to shove, hard evidence can end an otherwise lengthy debate.
4. Hold Off on Handouts
Handouts are a hot topic when discussing presentations – they have their advantages and disadvantages, and their ambiguity causes some disagreement among presentation experts.
Handouts have several strong advantages:
- They can concisely summarise (or, alternatively, elaborate upon) the information discussed.
- They are a physical souvenir to remind your audience of the presentation and its points later.
- They allow the audience to take notes, even if they came unprepared.
Despite these, there is one large disadvantage: handouts distract viewers from your presentation. Hand someone anything and they will look it over at least momentarily, diverting attention from the presentation.
As a compromise, provide handouts at the end of the presentation. This keeps attention on you during the presentation and allows you to control the order in which points are revealed, while still offering some of the handout’s advantages.
There is one exception: if your presentation has a lot of technical data, pass out handouts beforehand. The ability to reference the data at any time increases retention – it’s better that your audience is distracted than lost altogether.
5. Don’t sit at all
One of the best pieces of advice for “sit-down” presentations is not to sit down at all. Standing while presenting gives the presenter a sense of authority, and can give the speaker more confidence.
Writing for Forbes, Nick Morgan explains why it just makes sense to stand. Part of it is the adrenaline – the side effect of the same fear that “sitters” want to avoid. Adrenaline makes you think faster and more clearly, skills obviously helpful in communicating your points to an audience.
Ever wonder where the expression “think on your feet” came from?
But standing really makes the delivery of your presentation feel like a formal presentation. Those afraid of public speaking will prefer to remain seated. And in some contexts it will be inappropriate to stand.
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